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Fan Fiction:
Book's Legacy

Chapter posted Oct. 25, 2006

Chapter Seven:
Plotting Sequences


Mal toggled the intercom from ship wide broadcast mode to transmit just to Shuttle One and cleared his throat. "So, ambassador, how much time you think you'll need to pack your things and bring 'em back to Serenity?" he asked, lightly.

There was a brief pause before Inara answered. Probably out of shock, Mal thought sourly, wondering just how sure she'd been that he'd keep her aboard after the revelations she'd laid on him earlier. Likely not very, given his usual pattern of rejecting or pushing away whatever didn't fit his worldview. And maybe that'd been her intention; maybe she'd conjured it as a way of cutting things off clean with him and clearing her conscience all at once, but Mal was never one to follow anyone else's expectations, especially in matters of the heart.

"Two hours," the Companion finally replied, tentatively. "Perhaps three. Mal, are you certain...?"

'Course he wasn't, but when did he ever let that stop him? "We'll hash out the details later," he said, glancing over at the little pitcher with big ears and bigger brain in the co-pilot's seat. Not that he'd be able to keep it from her forever-- he gave River a stern glance as she stuck out her tongue at him-- but it weren't a conversation he wanted to have with any kind of audience, regardless of who found out the details after.

"Meantime," he continued, "you going to need Jayne to play pack mule again? We got us a list of chores what need doing, but I can probably manage without him for a couple hours if it's needful, and I know you got a lot of furniture and whatnot to wedge in that shuttle."

"I thank you for the offer," Inara replied tartly, her voice somewhat firmer as she slipped back into the familiar forms of verbal sparring, "but I'd probably spend more time keeping him away from the students than actually getting any use out of him."

"There's that," Mal conceded. Jayne had put up an undue fuss last time they'd let him near a house full of ordinary whores, never mind half-trained Companions; if Mal never heard another word about Jayne's John Thomas ever again, it would be too soon. "I could ask ZoŽ?" he offered.

"That's all right," Inara demurred, chuckling a little "I'll have plenty of help, I'm sure."

"If you're sure," Mal echoed her, then glanced down at the navigation screens again. "We'll break atmo in less than an hour; I'll let you know when to cut loose."

"I'd appreciate it," she replied crisply, then fell silent.

Mal toggled the intercom back to broadcast mode with a sigh, then glanced over at the quiet coil of limbs across from him. "Think you can hold the fort by yourself 'til we get there, little one?" he asked.

River's eyes lit up with enthusiasm as she unfolded from her curled position. "Of course, Captain," she said brightly, settling one graceful hand on the yoke in front of her. "Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning."

Mal glanced instinctively out at the black, wondering where she'd got that reckoning from, then caught himself and rolled his eyes at her. Girl had a bad habit of quoting literature or making up her own metaphors when perfectly sensible words would do; was a good thing his Ma had made him get his education, or he'd never make head nor tail of anything the girl said to him. "You got the morning part right, at least," he told her wryly, then set the controls back to autopilot and headed off the bridge.

The hatches to ZoŽ's and Kaylee's former bunks were both still open in the fore passage; the latter looked naked without its customary sign, and Mal wondered idly how long it would take his mechanic to paint Simon's name with her own and put the sign back up outside their new bunk, pretty lights and all. Probably as long as it took her to find fresh paint-- Mal had got rid of every last can they had aboard the day them vines had appeared in the kitchen area without prior warning.

He leaned down both ladders, looking for the girl in question, but found only Simon and ZoŽ below in their respective new cabins, rearranging their things. He took the opportunity to let his second know about the suspected tracking device and what he planned to do with it if'n they found one, then headed for the engine room, still looking for Kaylee. Before she'd come to her understanding with Simon it had been her favorite place aboard ship and the easiest place to find her-- which it might yet be at that, given that Kaylee was still every bit as enamored of the view from under the engine as she'd been when Bester first brought her aboard four years before. Not that Mal'd been trying to notice, but on a ship the size of a Firefly trying weren't always necessary.

He could hear her tinkering before he even reached the doorway; she was muttering under her breath in Chinese as she took out some frustration or other on a recalcitrant piece of machinery. He wasn't particularly worried to hear it; repairs aside, the ship had been shook about like a podful of peas and it seemed only natural there'd be a few problems with the systems still. Besides, there wasn't any panic in her tone of voice.

"Kaylee?" he called, not wanting to startle her.

She looked up as he stepped in, automatically hefting a heavy wrench in one hand in reaction to his unexpected intrusion, then relaxed and frowned at him. "Need somethin', Captain?" she asked, cautiously.

"I surely do," he nodded slowly. "You 'member the checkin'-over we gave Serenity after our little meeting with Commander Harken, nigh on a year ago?"

Kaylee frowned at him, brushing at her cheek with the back of one grease-smeared hand, then nodded. "That cruiser what picked us up after we found the ship been hit by Reavers? Yeah, I 'member. He called Serenity a junker, and Simon and River had to put on suits and hide outside the ship. Purplebellies left two transmitters tied up in her wiring, one of 'em easy to find and the other a real zhēngqì de gŏushĭ duī. Took Wash and me half a day to dig it out of her."

"I'm thinkin' we might maybe have a similar situation on our hands again," he said solemnly.

Her spine straightened in protest at that, a defensive, angry light flaring in her eyes. "Tāmā de! Captain..."

"I know, you already done checked the primary and secondary systems before they even cleared us for upthrust," Mal replied, raising his hands placatingly. "But I'm thinkin' they might've been smart about it this time, set one to sound off only after we'd left orbit. Didn't want to alarm nobody about it when we was only goin' back to the training house, but we'll be down a few hours waitin' on Inara, and I conjured it wouldn't hurt for us to do another quick scan."

She stared at him thoughtfully a moment. "You seen some kind of signal glitch in the transmitters, or somethin'?" she asked.

"Yup," he agreed, hooking his thumbs in his suspenders. "If it ain't a trackin' device, it's somethin' else as needs fixing, and either way, we got us a few hours to kill. Less'n you want to help clean out the holds we kept locked while we was parked on Persephone?"

Kaylee wrinkled up her nose at the suggestion. "Think I'd rather search for the needle in the haystack, if it's all the same to you," she said.

Mal chuckled a little at the disgust in her tone. "Don't blame you one bit. It sure ain't like to be pretty." Serenity's smuggling holds hadn't been emptied down to the bare bulkheads since the day he'd bought her, and there was like to be all manner of shattered breakables and other unsalvageable debris mixed about in the compartments he hadn't thought it wise to draw attention to while his boat was still open to all and sundry.

"You told the others it's cleanin' day yet?" she replied, the corners of her mouth tugging up a little. "'Cause I'd sure like to've seen Jayne's face when you told him."

He smirked. Jayne had been caught more'n once cheating at cards to get himself out of his chores, and cleaning was one of his least favorite duties. "No, I ain't told him yet," he said. "Wanted to find out first if 'Nara would be needin' him to help her move her furniture back on the shuttle."

Kaylee's eyes widened at that, and she bit her lip, clutching at the wrench with both hands. "And? " she asked, visibly bracing herself for the answer. "Did you ask her?"

"I did," he replied, his emotions souring a little as he considered again what losing the Companion for a second time would have meant to Serenity-- it weren't just his eyes she'd been pulling the wool over the last couple years, and not only his tender feelings she'd been trampling on when she left. "She said she'd have all the help she needed at the trainin' house."

"Does that mean she's staying?" Kaylee asked, grip tightening on the wrench even more as she bounced a little on the balls of her feet.

"It surely does," Mal said, smiling gently at her.

She dropped the wrench abruptly, shrieking in joy, and threw her arms around him; Mal staggered back a little, startled both by the sudden hug and the impact of the heavy tool on the toe of his left boot. Then she was off, darting around him and down the passageway, undoubtedly on her way to visit the Companion.

Mal smiled after her, flexing his toe in his boot, then picked the wrench up and stowed it where it wouldn't rattle about in the landing. Then he headed back up to the bridge to give River her first lesson in plotting an entry sequence.

It seemed like no time at all before he was signaling Inara to break loose and unslaving the co-pilot controls so River could finish up the descent on her own. He was fair sure she already understood the concepts better than he did-- he couldn't have explained the maths behind why a faulty sequence could skip a boat off atmo like a stone across a lake if his life depended on it-- and with a little more practice, she'd probably be better at the feel of it, too. Maybe even as good as Wash; Serenity talked to her in ways she never had done even for him.

Of course, none of that would matter if River and her brother left ship at Osiris. But worrying about that was borrowing trouble; there were other, more important things to be concerning himself with first.

Such as whether any of that rotgut from Triumph had survived the battering they'd took, or whether the seed stock from their last salvage had escaped and spilled through the grillwork into the fabric stocks in the hold below it. And then there was Kaylee's stash of spare nothing parts, which had included two new catalyzers last time he'd checked, bits of ambulance gear left over from the job on Ariel, and other assorted contraband fèiwù that had accumulated over the years. None of it was worth much in and of itself, but all of it was what Book would have called "irregularly acquired", and there was more'n enough of it to keep 'em busy for hours.

"A good day for presents," River said happily, eavesdropping on his thoughts as she brought the ship slowly into the valley they'd parked in last time they'd come visiting this world. It was still autumn, though the skies weren't as clear as they'd been the day Mal rescued Inara from the Operative, and the leaves of the trees were just starting to turn all manner of pretty colors.

Mal had no idea what River might be thinking of in the holds that could be deemed present-worthy, but then again, she had little more to her name than a handful of hand-me-down dresses and some calligraphy paintings she'd done herself. Whatever treasures she might turn up amid the wreckage, he wouldn't begrudge her. "Just make sure you check it with me first," he said aloud. "Got to be sure you don't end up with nothing that's poisonous, or a danger to you. And don't give me that look-- you know your brother's going to say the same."

River rolled her eyes at him, then activated the landing gear and eased up on the atmo engines, hovering the ship the last short distance to the ground. "I'll be eighteen next week," she said scoldingly.

"Old enough for flyin', old enough for fightin'," he said, gripping the arms of his chair as the Serenity settled slowly toward the ground. "But not too old to be turned over someone's knee, dŏng ma?"

The earth came up to meet them as the bridge rang with the sound of River's laughter.

-~-

Chinese translations:

zhēngqì de gŏushĭ duī = "steaming crap pile"
Tāmā de! = "Damn it!"
fèiwù = "junk"
dŏng ma? = "understand?"

 

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